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Postscript : A Family Torn by War Is United--45 Years Later : Imprisoned first by Nazis, then by Stalinists, Nina Duplakina survived decades of suffering to see her lost children at last.

June 06, 1995|MATT BIVENS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

SHAKHTY, Russia — Nina Duplakina was 24 and married to the neighborhood butcher. Her daughter was 6, her son 5, and she felt happy and safe in their East Berlin home.

Then the KGB came.

"They drove up. I was alone with my two children. They said, 'Quickly, get dressed. You're going,' " Duplakina recounted.

KGB officers hustled her into an overcoat, out the front door, down the walk, through the picket fence and into a waiting car. Her children ran after her, crying, tugging in vain at the hem of her skirt. "But no one paid any attention to them. We left them at the fence, shouting and crying," Duplakina said, crying herself at the decades-old memory.

That day, 45 years ago, was the last time Duplakina saw her children--until this spring. With the help of Red Cross workers, the 69-year-old woman, living in this mining town 550 miles south of Moscow, was reunited in April with her daughter Kathe, now 50.

Then her son Felix came to visit.

For Duplakina, the reunions cap a life of extraordinary sorrow and suffering, one etched in the wrinkles of her face and the sadness of her eyes.

To spend the day with her daughter, she put on a cheerful lemon-yellow dress. But her smile often faded into a frown of preoccupied worry, and her joy at seeing her children is tempered by the knowledge of the years they have lost: "Now there is so little time left to live," she said with a sigh.

Duplakina's parents had both died before she was 11 years old. She was raised by her older brother, who was killed during World War II.

In the winter of 1943, the depth of World War II, the Germans occupied Shakhty, and Duplakina was rounded up and sent to a Berlin prison camp. She and the other prisoners worked at a sausage factory, and there she met Herman Angers, a German butcher.

"He helped everyone a little bit. But I was the smallest, I was 17, and I was always sick. They would take blood from us for the army, and after that I was always weak and ill. He would feed me, sneak me extra portions of food," Duplakina said.

Angers and Duplakina fell in love. They married and their daughter was born in the midst of war. Despite Angers' pleas, Duplakina remained in prison.

One day late in the war, when Angers was away, the prison warden's sister suddenly and without explanation demanded custody of Kathe. The Allies had begun bombing Berlin; Duplakina was told she would have to give up her baby or she would be locked out of the camp bomb shelter. The warden's sister marched Duplakina, cradling Kathe in her arms, to the gates of the camp.

"She opened the gates and said, 'Get going.' She knew I'd be afraid and I wouldn't go far. She thought she'd scare me. But then the bombing really did begin, and what was I to do?"

Duplakina fled into the woods with her child, and Allied bombs destroyed the camp; a direct hit on the bomb shelter killed everyone inside.

Angers returned the next morning, found his wife and daughter and took them to his home. He told the German authorities that they had died in the bombing. Soon afterward, Berlin fell to the Red Army.

"Such joy that was! So much joy, everything was wonderful!" remembered Duplakina. "A Russian commander gave us permission to live in a house [at his disposal]. They helped us buy furniture. Everything was good. Officers would stop us to check our documents, and then happily let us pass. Ours, our Russians, had come!"

But the Russians brought more than joy: They brought Soviet Stalinism. Even as Angers and Duplakina were building their lives together, now buoyed by the birth of their son, Felix, men and women back in Russia were plotting to wreck their happiness.

Russians like to tell grim anecdotes about the mean-spirited envy that, to their chagrin, has long marked their national character.

In one widely told joke, a genie offers to grant a Russian muzhik , a peasant, one wish. But there is a catch: Whatever the muzhik wishes for, his neighbor will get double. After long thought, the muzhik makes his wish: "Let me go blind in one eye."

Russian envy helped nourish the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. It was given its freest rein under Stalin. Two years ago, Duplakina finally got access to the minutes of her trial in absentia by one of the three-man committees that carried out Stalin's purges during the war and its aftermath.

Three times the troika met to discuss Duplakina. The minutes show that its members had decided to punish Duplakina, but were not sure what their pretext should be. She had been taken to Germany during the war, married a German and become a citizen of East Germany. She had broken neither German nor Soviet law.

The Russian woman believes that she was punished for marrying a German during wartime. The troika's exact motivation is unclear from the minutes of its deliberations, but it seems likely that her crime was living happily in a foreign country--presumably more happily than the troika members--instead of being miserable at home with everyone else.

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